Wolves and a Dash of Mountain Shenanigans

Because we came looking for wolves, upon our arrival we asked in the visitor center where to start looking for them in this huge, huge park that is largely inaccessible this time of year. Lucky for us — and I suppose for them, as well — a couple days earlier one pack had taken down an elk in a spot that was within eye-sight of the road. We were given a brief description of the place and were told, “Just look for the line of spotting scopes and the buses for wildlife tours.” And it was very true — as long as you knew the general area and were out early in the morning, if the wolves were visible you’d see a line of spotting scopes set up, usually in front of a couple buses. And because we’re all kindred spirits in our search for wolves in the crisp mountain air, if you weren’t one of the first to be set-up many would be very kind in sharing what they were seeing.

And on our second day wolf watching, we certainly got very lucky. When we arrived one pack — The Mollies — was about a half mile away, in clear view tramping around and playing as canines do. A short while later, two wolves broke from the pack and made their way back to the fallen elk where they chased the magpies and ravens off and scrounged for a few last pieces.

As they did so, they’d take break now and then to howl back and forth with the rest of the pack.

Now we stood about a half mile from the main group and the two on the elk. While it felt very safe with the couple dozen people around, it didn’t escape myself or my husband that we were awfully close to these wild wolves.

Putting aside my innate distrust of wildlife, I watched in awe.

I’d seen packs of coyotes and heard both wolves and coyotes howl, but never like this. It wasn’t where they all get together and howl in a group as they are often depicted. Instead these wolves were clearly “talking” back and forth. Having a conversation while a mile apart. It was incredible.

For the most part, while we wildlife watched it was cold — in the teens & 20sF — and that’s a little brisk for standing still even for the winter hardened, fully equipped Wisconsinites that we are. I was very happy to have finished my Connectivity Gloves before the trip. They were actually quite a bit warmer than I expected and they absolutely saved my fingers when snapping photos with my phone.

img_2182As I mentioned before the trip, I purchased this kit from Feel Good Yarn Co and the fingertips of these have SilverSpun yarn making them compatible with my smartphone.

img_2181-1Plus, I really love the look of the two-tones of grey (I selected Storm Cloud & Silver Dust for my kit). For those interested, the pattern — by Mari Chiba — is extremely well written and easy to follow and it’s free on Knitty.

Because of the cold, throughout the wildlife portions of our trip we let the kids hang out and read in the car, calling them out to see things when we had good views. They were exceptionally patient, so as a treat we drove further on into the mountains to find fresh snow in which they could play. At home we’d been having an unseasonably warm winter and had very little snow, so having a foot of powdery snow to romp in was hugely exciting. We did a little searching and found a good spot, not far but far enough from where we’d viewed some bison and a couple moose and the kids were elated.

It’s a national park so Moose wasn’t allowed to play with the kiddos away from the road or parking lots, but he dutifully watched over his people as they built snow forts and played until they were too cold to play any more.

That is, of course, when he wasn’t posing majestically for photos.

We also embarked on a few short hikes including one up to Wraith Falls.

img_2021As was only right, there were more snowy shenanigans along the way. It was a nice short hike and because it’s rather popular, the snow was packed down so the hiking wasn’t hard.

img_2031Of course the waterfall was mostly frozen and dimly lit snuggled into a little fold in the hills as it was, but it was rewarding nonetheless.

And when you’re 8 and tired halfway through the hike…

img_2038Dad is always there to help you polar bear slide down the hillside safely.

Now it’s worthwhile to share that I was not super comfortable with the wintry mountain driving in our compact front-wheel drive car. True, we put new snow tires on before the trip and true we had everything we possibly could need to survive should — worst case scenario — we get stuck overnight in a ditch somewhere, but while the road through the Lamar Valley isn’t bad, there are slick spots and icy runs. For a fair bit of the time I was kind of a hot mess about it even though I did a decent job of just being quiet and letting Mr. Knitting Sarah focus on the roads Thankfully among his many talents he’s an excellent winter driver.

No moment was more harrowing for me, however, than a certain bison traffic jam.

I admit this doesn’t look bad, but there were moments when these behemoths were surrounding our car at which point I just put my head in my shawl and stopped looking. Logically I know these bison were not a threat, but a couple years ago I witnessed one get cranky with an unsuspecting Chevy Malibu in front of us in the Black Hills and take a swing with his horns at the car’s quarter panel. To this day, close proximity to these guys reminds me of that and kind of makes me squirm in my seat. Eventually they crossed the 2-lane bridge farther down the road and we got around them without incident.

We romped a bit more and then grabbed an early dinner so the kids could enjoy some pool time back at the hotel. As chief Moose-sitter during the kids’ pool time, I was able to do some spinning (Mr. Knitting Sarah volunteered to supervise the kids — he’d planned that out, too). As we wrapped up our time in Yellowstone I managed to finish half of my roving from Wolf Ridge Icelandics (on the left) as well as singles from a small 2.20z batt from Classy Squid Fiber Co.

img_2160-2I had a number of spinning options because this being my first trip with my wheel I’d packed way too much, but when I finished half of my Icelandic roving and knew I couldn’t finish the other half before it was time to pack up again, I selected this batt called “Japanese Garden.” It was small enough that I knew I could finish the singles before it was time to go so it seemed like a perfect little addition to my vacation crafting. I divided it in half and then created roughly 3″ wide strips just to make it easier to handle. My daughter was totally enamored with them and had a blast petting and handing them to me was I whipped through them. For me, I tried to embrace instead of fight the textural qualities of the batt. In the past, I’ve tried to treat batts like top and worked to eliminate the slubs, but after watching Amanda’s spins on Instagram (she’s the lady behind Classy Squid Fiber Co) I really wanted to let these unique fibers sing. More on those results soon…

I’ll be wrapping up our time in Yellowstone tomorrow with a final spectacular hike and more knitting on the road, as well as some final thoughts from the experience.

Stay tuned!

In the Badlands: The Arrival

I long for the ocean and my husband would prefer the mountains, so somehow when it comes to planning vacations our go-to landscape is the Plains. I can’t explain how, but it works for us. This past week was our annual trip to Badlands National Park — parts of the park were formed under an inland sea 75million years ago and the formations kind of look like mountains, so maybe that’s it.  In any case, normally we split a week between camping in the Badlands and the Black Hills, but this year since we were planning to take time in April we opted to spend the whole trip in the Badlands. The Hills sometimes still get snow this time of year and although prepared for it, we did want to try to avoid that possibility. Correction, I wanted to try to avoid that. My husband loves winter camping and would most likely be delighted to roll out of the tent to find freshly fallen snow outside. I am without a doubt a much more of a fair-weather camper and waking up to snow would most likely just make me cranky and send me running from my sleeping bag to the heated car as quickly as possible.

At any rate, we left home shortly before 3am Monday morning. By about 3:15am we were pulled over, cleaning & sanitizing the car for our son had unfortunately gotten sick. As these things go we got off very easy, but still not really what you want to be doing at 3:15am especially on the very front-end of a week-long camping vacation. Once the unpleasantness arises, it feels like a roll of the cosmic dice as to whether this was just a random one-off event or it’s going to be a week caring for and then eventually contracting the flu while living in a tent 35miles from running water. I’m very thankful to report that aside from a bad cold which our boy valiantly ignored for the most part, this was the only illness with which we dealt all week. All cleaned up, we got back on the road for a wonderfully uneventful drive.

It’s a little over a 10hour drive time from our house to the park, so leaving when we did got us to there with plenty of time to set up camp and fetch water. When camping, we usually stay at the Sage Creek Campground which — aside from two well-maintained outhouses and a handful of picnic tables with sunshades — has no amenities. The nearest potable water is located at the Visitor Center about 35miles away via roads that take about an hour and a half to traverse thanks to only about half of them being paved and generally lower speed limits within the park. Because of the space limitations of driving a four-door hatchback containing 4 humans, a 75lb Moose, and all our camping gear, we needed to set up camp and then run to get our 5-gallon water container filled for the night. Preferably this all happens with enough daylight to then get back and cook up a delicious spaghetti dinner at camp. Even with the early start my husband usually drives the bulk of the way — he knows I like to knit and he gets a little stir-crazy in the car without a job to do, so I clicked away on socks for my daughter while we drove toward our destination.

I started them at home after my son showing off his new socks elicited a ‘But where are mine, mom?’ from my girl…

And just as we pulled into the park, I wove in the last end…

IMG_8791My girl was delighted and wore them happily until they had to go in the dirty handknits bag (that’s a normal thing for camping, right?).

As planned, we made it to the park by early afternoon and before we even made it to the campground, we spotted this guy in a tree about 300yards off the road…

Photo by Mr Knitting Sarah

My very first ever wild porcupine. Up a tree and munching away, he was exceptionally cooperative for viewing and photography.

We set up our home base…

IMG_9046and had a pretty uneventful evening aside from the ever present bison in camp…

IMG_9047…which are clearly conspiring against me. They are incredibly huge and have free rein of the park and, most notably, the campground where I was supposed to sleep. As much as I enjoy the outdoors, I have to admit that really don’t care for sharing space with enormous wild animals and my distrust of their intentions in general tends to border on the irrational and/or paranoid. But I digress. Spaghetti dinner was consumed just as the sun set over the hills and the bison moved around a bend to bed down for the night (and no doubt discuss how to torment me). The kids spotted Orion and some other constellations before we zipped them into their sleeping bags and we passed a peaceful night in our tent.

I awoke to the sound of coyotes howling in camp. Like just outside our tent. I was mildly concerned that Moose would make a fuss and propel us into some sort of situation (of which the general idea in my imagination is very bad, but the details of which I conveniently choose to not think about), but he just laid there, eyes wide and ears back. Clearly, he likes being in close proximity to wildlife about as much as I do. I dozed for a bit and then cautiously stepped out of the tent (checking for bison, of course) where Mr Knitting Sarah was making coffee. And aside from the glory of the Starbucks Via Ready-To-Brew packs I was greeted by this scene…

IMG_8793

Stunning, right?! Probably worth risking my life with enormous wild beasts nearby.

My hubby and I set up our comfy camp chairs and enjoyed the sunrise…

I was thankful for my comfy camp chair and my lovely Sprig Cloche & Welted Fingerless Mitts in Dyeabolical Id Squishy Sport Single. They were so cozy! If you haven’t signed up for the giveaway, definitely hop over and do so — entering is super easy and today’s the last day to throw your name in to win a skein of your own!

From here, the trip took some rather unexpected turns not the least of which resulted in this situation…

IMG_8833And this one…

IMG_9045And this…

IMG_9009Keep your eyes peeled over the next few days as I share the highlights of this grand adventure!